Police investigating the theft of the “True Cross”, a relic of the cross used in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, have identified the vehicle used in the crime.
It is now believed that the thieves were working on plans for the robbery for weeks. On Tuesday night two armed masked men raided the quiet monastery in daylight.
The cross was handed over to the Holycross Abbey in Thurles, Tipperary in the 12th century by King Donal Mor O’Brien. The other two relics stolen were presented by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1977. The “True Cross” has been a source of devotion and pilgrimage for the last 900 years.
The relic is contained in a 12-inch high silver cross, which hung from a chain.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Dermott Clifford of the diocese of Cashel and Emly explained, “The Relic of the True Cross is the most precious relic that you could have. As we know, the True Cross was found by St Helena, the mother of Constantine. Holy Cross Abbey has visitors every day, people want to come and pray before this relic but of course it’s to Our Lord that they want to pray, who died for us on the Cross. The purpose of all relics really is to direct us to Our Lord”.
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Parish priest at Holycross, Father Tom Breen, told the Irish Independent that he believed the men had been planning the robbery for some time. On September 24, while he was celebrating a wedding, a set of keys were stolen from the sacristy. Fr Breen believes these two incidents are related despite the fact that the monastery’s locks were replaced.
He said, “I’m totally baffled as to why they would take the relics, they have little commercial value, even if melted down."
Breen added that the loss to the community was “immeasurable”. Busloads of tourists continue to arrive to see the cross. Annually the abbey hosts up to 250,000 visitors.
The parish priest said “I would appeal to the thieves in the strongest possible terms not to damage the relic -- just leave the artifacts in some church and they will eventually come back to me or we will use a third person.
"I would in my heart feel that the thieves had no real appreciation of what it was they were taking and I would hope that they didn't have any ulterior motive."
Archbishop Clifford made an appeal on Vatican Radio to the thieves. He said “It isn’t of much money value, but it is of incalculable spiritual, devotional, and historic value. We have appealed to the people who took it, in Heaven’s name, it’s not worth money, we would ask them to please return it as soon as possible to any church or convent, its of immense importance to the faithful who come in their hundreds to the Abbey to pray before it”.
The Archbishop also added that he believes the economic crisis could be partly to blame. In recent months, gangs have been targeting churches in the south-east focusing on chalices made of precious metals, which can be melted down.
Clifford said “You see at the present time, metal is very precious, it sells very well, gold or silver or copper, and there are people stealing copper piping all over the place, even from the roofs of churches”.
According to Irish Times reports, the police have located the 2006 wine-coloured Volkswagen Toureg four-by-four that was used by the thieves.
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